Bali bombing mastermind dies in police shoot-out

Al-Qa'ida leader tracked down to Javan hide-out after seven years on the run
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The Independent Online

A militant mastermind who eluded capture for seven years and terrorised Indonesia with a string of deadly al-Qa'ida-funded bombings, was killed in a police raid yesterday. Noordin Muhammed Top was believed to be the head of a splinter group, Jemaah Islamiyah, and had been implicated in every major attack in Indonesia since 2002, including two separate bombings on the resort island of Bali that together killed 222 people and a pair of suicide bombings at Jakarta's Marriott and Ritz hotels in July this year.

Police raided a hide-out in Solo, central Indonesia, causing an hours-long gunfight that ended at dawn with an explosion. Four suspected militants died, including Noordin, the national police chief, Bambang Hendarso Danuri, said. Three suspects were also captured.

The operation left a charred house with no roof and blown-out walls. Hundreds of pounds of explosives, M-16 assault rifles, grenades and bombs were removed from the house as ambulances shuttled away the dead and injured.

Noordin's remains were found inside the house and identified by fingerprints. "It is Noordin M. Top," Mr Danuri told a nationally televised news conference to loud cheers from the audience of reporters, photographers and TV crews. "We asked [him] to surrender, but they kept firing," Mr Danuri said. "That is how he died ... He even had bullets in his pockets."

Documents and laptop computers found in the house prove that Noordin "is the leader of al-Qa'ida in South-east Asia", he added.

Noordin fled to Indonesia in 2002 amid a crackdown on Muslim extremists in Malaysia in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the United States eight years ago. "The most dangerous terrorist in South-east Asia has been put out of commission," said Jim Della-Giacoma, South-east Asia project director for the International Crisis Group think-tank. "It would have been better if police had managed to arrest him alive, but it appears that this was not an option," he said. "Unfortunately, Noordin's death does not mean an end to terrorism in Indonesia, though it has been dealt a significant blow."

A spokesman for the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said he was aware of reports of Noordin's death. "We are awaiting official confirmation from the Indonesian government," he said. Dozens of Australians were killed in the 2002 bombing of Bali nightclubs, and Noordin was also believed to behind the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta in 2004.

An Indonesian counter-terrorism official said the militants killed yesterday included an alleged bomb-maker, Bagus Budi Pranato. The captured militants included a pregnant woman who is being treated at a hospital. She was in a stable condition.